Baltimore, Md - May 25, 2017 - There may not be a word in our vocabulary adequate to express the depth of our gratitude to the Ribono shel Olam for returning Yerushalayim to Jewish hands in our lifetime after two thousand years, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger said Tuesday night. “At the same time,” he said, “words are all we have.” In a talk delivered at Congregation Tiferes Yisroel, entitled “Jerusalem: Fifty Years Since the Liberation,” the shul’s founding rav offered personal memories, historical accounts, stories of tzadikim in Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisroel, and political and kabbalistic perspectives to portray the relationship of the Jews to the Holy City from ancient through modern times. The talk was sponsored by Eliahu and Leah Weinberg, l’ilui nishmas Eliahu’s father, Lev Shalom ben Eliahu, on his yahrzeit.
Rabbi Goldberger recalled hearing, as a young boy in the early 1960s, his parents’ account of the shul trip they had led to the Holy Land. They could see the Western Wall from a distance, they said, but they were not allowed any closer than that. The Jordanians who then controlled the area did not permit Jews to go near the Kosel. The Rabbi articulated the feeling he had at the time: “It’s ours, but we can’t have it. It belongs to us, but it’s out of reach.”
Next, the Rabbi recalled the tension of the adults in his life during the Six Day War in 1967, when he was nine, and said that “the great and open miracles that Hashem showed us are unmatched in contemporary times.” He quoted at length from the recently republished 28th of Iyar by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman of Atlanta, who was on sabbatical in Israel with his family when the war broke out and chronicled in his journal the events as they unfolded. One anecdote detailed an argument that broke out almost immediately upon the capture of the Kosel, as to whether tehillim should be recited, or whether the time for “bothering” the Almighty with requests was now past, and only Hallel should be said.
Rabbi Goldberger shared many stories of tzadikim whose lives shaped and were shaped by Yerushalayim, beginning with Dovid HaMelech, who established his throne in Yerushalayim over 3,000 years ago. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, the preeminent Jewish poet and author of The Kuzari, traveled to the Holy Land in 1145, at age 65. It is said that upon his arrival, he knelt to kiss the ground, and at that moment, he was trampled to death by an Arab horseman. Rabbi Goldberger ventured that it was perhaps in the merit of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s death al Kiddush haShem that, a century later, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, the Ramban, who arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 1267, at age 73, was able to lay the foundations of Jewish community in what was then a desolated Yerushalayim. As is recounted in Rabbi Dovid Rossof’s Where Heaven Touches Earth: Jewish Life in Jerusalem from Medieval Times to the Present, the Ramban gathered a minyan where there was none and established a shul in one of Yerushalayim’s many ownerless ruins.
Five hundred years later, students of the Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon founded a new community in Eretz Yisroel. The two leaders, though, each tried and failed to reach the Holy Land and concluded, separately, that Heaven did not permit them to go. Rabbi Goldberger compared their longing to that of Moshe Rabbeinu, who pleaded with Hashem 515 times to enter the Land but was not allowed.
“We still feel that,” the Rabbi said, “and we long to be there.” He mentioned the halacha of facing toward Eretz Yisroel to daven, toward Yerushalayim when in Eretz Yisroel, and toward the Bais HaMikdash when in Yerushalayim; when in doubt as to the direction of Eretz Yisroel, one should turn one’s heart to the Kodesh HaKedoshim. Thus, said the Rabbi, the prayers and the tears of Jews flow like converging rivers from all over the world toward Yerushalayim, in a daily rehearsal for the ingathering of exiles at the end of history.
A brief study in other nations’ evaluation of Am Yisroel and its land was encapsulated in the story of Alexander the Great and Shimon haTzadik at the time of the Bais Sheini. When Alexander approached Yerushalayim, Shimon haTzadik, the last living member of the Anshei Knesses HaGedola, donned the clothing of the Kohen Gadol and went out with his entourage to meet the Emperor of half the known world. Alexander’s men were astonished to see their leader dismount from his horse and bow down before a Jew, and they asked him why. The military genius replied that, each night before a battle, he received a vision of a man who told him he would be victorious. Before him was that man.
By contrast, Rabbi Goldberger said, Kaiser Wilhelm would later require that the arch he would pass under to enter the city be raised so he need not bow. In our time, he said, “there are people who deny the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to Yerushalayim. Aren’t they embarrassed—UNESCO—to proclaim their ignorance to the world? They are unreachable. But we have to know, ourselves, that we are bound and tied to the city of Yerushalayim.”
Rabbi Goldberger noted that the date of the liberation of Yerushalayim, in terms of the middos of Sefiras haOmer, is Chesed sheb’Malchus.
“It is a chesed [a kindness] of Malchus Shamaim [the Kingdom of Heaven],” he said, “that on this day, Hashem returned Yerushalayim to his precious nation, Am Yisroel.” Concluding his talk, the Rabbi offered a prayer that, like our prayers and our tears, the river of the Jewish people should flow into Eretz Yisroel and into Yerushalayim from the four corners of the world at the time of our ultimate redemption, bimheira b’yameinu.